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It will take the Air Force three to six months to recover from the recently announced stand down of combat squadrons, and two years of fully funded operations to return to the readiness level of 2011, top officials said April 24.
Lt. Gen. Burton Field, deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, told lawmakers the Air Force can return to optimal readiness levels, provided Congress approves the service’s 2014 budget request. Air crews also would need additional flying time, beyond operational commitments, to get caught up, he said.
Earlier this month, the Air Force grounded 17 combat squadrons — four of which are deployed and will continue flying until they return to the U.S. — and reduced the readiness level of several others as a result of mandatory budget cuts known as sequestration. The aircraft will be grounded until October unless Congress reaches a deficit-reduction agreement that ends sequestration.
“Thirteen of our fighter and bomber squadrons are not flying,” Field said at a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing today. “That’s not good. In 45 to 60 days those aircrew and pilots, and navigators and [weapons systems officers] and maintainers will be out of currency. That’s going to be a significant recovery problem. And at six months is something we will have to find out because we haven’t done that before.”
A 30 percent reduction in the budget for flying hours meant a loss of 44,000 flying hours. The Air Force had to protect squadrons currently flying combat operations, those ready to deploy, those in South Korea and Japan and those tasked to be ready to deploy if “something happens in the world,” Field said.
“We had enough money left to keep another eight squadrons flying at a reduced rate,” Field said. “That was the end of the money.”
The service will distribute 241,496 flying hours to keep other squadrons in a “tiered readiness,” with some remaining combat ready and others at a reduced readiness level called “basic mission capable,” according to documents obtained by Air Force Times.
The cuts affect only targeting combat fighter and bomber squadrons, not training. However, Air Combat Command Gen. Mike Hostage said earlier this month that he has canceled a class at the Air Force Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and will possibly close ranges at bases across the country.
The Air Force’s fiscal 2014 budget request was filed before sequestration went into effect, so the service has not formally asked for additional funding to make up the lost flying hours, Field said.■